27 Civil War Facts That Will Leave You Speechless
The Civil War is often called “the first modern war” because of efficient and deadly weapons that became available for the first time. Just how terrible was this war that pitted brother against brother? Consider these 20 jaw-dropping facts.
First Assassination Attempt
Abraham Lincoln was assassinated near the close of the war, but that was not the first attempt made on his life. In 1863, Lincoln rode alone by horse to his family’s summer residence. Soldiers at the gate heard a gunshot and moments later Lincoln came galloping in astride his horse, but without his hat. Troops searched for the assassin without luck, but they did find Lincoln’s hat–which had a bullet hole right through it.
Gordon, or Whipped Peter, was a slave on a Louisiana plantation who escaped from slavery in 1863. He would go on to serve as a soldier in the United States Colored Troops. Harper’s Weekly published photos of Gordon’s scarred back, the result of his time in slavery. The photos helped make slavery more real for those living in the North and accelerated the Union cause in the war.
The phrase “Siamese twins” originates from brothers Chang and Eng Bunker, who were born in Siam and immigrated to the United States prior to the Civil War. The brothers made a fortune as part of Barnum and Bailey’s circus, and they used their money to purchase a plantation in North Carolina in 1843. The war hit southern farmers hard, and the abolition of slavery at the war’s end caused the Bunker brothers to lose most of their income. They died in 1874, just hours apart.
Capt. Custer of the 5th Cavalry is seen with Lt. Washington, a prisoner and former classmate
You likely know George Armstrong Custer more for his post-war exploits than his Civil War service, but many do not know that Custer had a successful career in the Union army and was recognized for his bravery and audacity.
Thanks to the invention of the telegraph and the expansion of newspapers, the Civil War saw some of the first true battlefield reporting in American history. Reporters followed battles live, wrote lengthy accounts and opinions, and kept the American people abreast of what was happening during the war.
One-third of the soldiers who fought for the Union Army were immigrants, and nearly 1-in-10 was African American. The Union Army included a significant number of soldiers who had immigrated from Germany, Ireland, France, Italy, Poland, England, Scotland and more.
Without question, the Civil War was the bloodiest conflict in the history of the United States. More than 600,000 people lost their lives, which amounted to approximately 2 percent of the country’s population at the time. By comparison, that would equate to nearly 6 million people today.
More soldiers died in the Civil War that in the combined number killed in World War I, World War II, Korea and Vietnam.
But the Civil War was different in that disease took a larger toll than the battles themselves. Dysentery, typhoid fever, infected wounds and other diseases accounted for two-thirds of the overall death toll from the war.
Lincoln at Antietam
Gettysburg wasn’t the only unusually bloody battle. In the Battle of Shiloh, more Americans were killed in two days than in the Revolutionary War and the War of 1812 combined.At Cold Harbor, Virginia, more than 7,000 men died in less than half an hour. And the Battle of Antietam only lasted a day but took the lives of more than 10,000 Union soldiers, which exceeds the tally of the D-Day invasion of Normandy.
Nearly 56,000 soldiers died in prison camps from starvation and disease — a quarter of those deaths happened at one camp. Prior to the war, no American POW camp had ever held more than 100 men at once, but during the war, each camp held hundreds and sometimes thousands. Poor sanitation, overcrowding, and lack of food and medical supplies led to the deaths of an untold number of prisoners.
Of the 150 or so prison camps during the war, Camp Sumter in Georgia was the most notorious. Also known as Andersonville Prison, the camp held nearly 40,000 soldiers over its time in operation–nearly a third of those men died in captivity.
Staggering Financial Cost
The Civil War is estimated to have cost the nation over $6 billion–that equates to nearly $150 billion today. Near the end of the war, the U.S. government was spending approximately $3.5 million per day, more than triple the government’s expenditures in the years prior to the war.
These numbers do not necessarily take into account the cost of destroyed property, livestock and lost wages. The South was particularly hard-hit in these areas, since most of the fighting took place in the southern states.
Library of Congress
Amputation was the treatment of choice for broken or severely wounded limbs. There were so many wounded men that doctors found it impossible to do time-consuming procedures like removing part of a broken bone or some damaged flesh. More than half of leg amputations at the thigh or knee ended up being fatal. That number shot up to 83 percent if the amputation was done at the hip joint.
Medical understanding of disease transmission was very rudimentary in the mid-1800s. Surgical tools were not sanitized beyond simply wiping off the blood from a previous surgery, which obviously led to many soldiers contracting terrible diseases while being treated for battle wounds. And because there were no antibiotics at the time, amputation was a regular practice to avoid future infection of injured limbs.
There was no anesthesia on the battlefield, so doctors and nurses had to improvise to try and make soldiers comfortable during surgery. Things such as ether, chloroform, and even alcohol were used to calm nerves and induce unconsciousness so that medical procedures could be performed.
African-Americans were overrepresented in the Union Army: they constituted less than 1 percent of the population of the North, but made up about 10 percent of Union Army forces in battle. In fact, more than 85 percent of eligible African-Americans in the Northern states enlisted in the Army.
These black soldiers earned significantly less than their white counterparts. Records show that white soldiers were paid $13 a month, while black soldiers earned $10.
Many African-American soldiers refused to accept their pay as a way of protesting the wage discrepancy. Abolitionists within and outside of Congress took up the cause, and in 1864 black soldiers were finally paid the same as white soldiers. The government also paid backpay to these soldiers, back to the day they enlisted in the Union Army.
Ages of soldiers in the South ranged much more widely than those fighting in the North, especially when it came to young men. It’s estimated than around 20 percent of Confederate troops were under the age of 18 when they enlisted, due in part to the fact that the South had no minimum enlistment age.
In the North, there were also many underage soldiers, many of which served in auxiliary positions like drummers, buglers, and equipment handlers.
Harper’s Weekly began publishing in 1857 and became the most widely read journal in the United States during the Civil War. The magazine tried to remain moderate on the issue of slavery, though its reporting was the means of convincing many African Americans to join the Union cause. Some of the most important coverage of the war was found in the pages of Harper’s Weekly.
On both sides of the war, women were not allowed to enlist in the conflict. However, many ladies had a burning desire to fight for their country, so they took up disguises and fought dressed as men. Most historians estimate that around 400 female soldiers participated in the war.
Women also took on more prominent roles in politics, business, farming and household management as a result of their husbands and fathers having gone to war.
Experts estimate that approximately 40 percent of Civil War dead were not able to be identified. This was due to the unprecedented number of men being killed during the battles, which meant many of the dead were simply abandoned as troops had to march to the next battle before they could bury their fallen comrades.
Arlington National Cemetery
Many people do not know that Arlington National Cemetery sits on land that used to be owned by Robert E. Lee, the leader of the Confederate Army. The Union confiscated the 1,100-acre Virginia estate from Lee, and President Lincoln then gave permission for it to be turned into a cemetery. According to some accounts, the idea was that if Lee ever decided to return, he would have to look out at the graves of those killed by the war he helped to create. Lee’s oldest son sued the federal government after the war and won back the estate, but because it was now a cemetery, he sold it back to the government for $150,000.
Percentage of Population
Library of Congress
Before the start of the Civil War in 1861, almost four million slaves were living in the United States, and there were approximately 500,000 free African Americans. Altogether, they made up about 14 percent of the U.S. population.
As impossible as it may seem, the Department of Veterans Affairs still pays a pension to one surviving daughter of a Civil War veteran.
Irene Triplett is in her 80’s now, and her father, Mose Triplett, fought for both the South and North during the war. He was married to his first wife for many years, and when she died, Mose married a woman 50 years younger than him. She gave birth to Irene, who still collects a monthly pension of $73.13 from the government.
Horace Lawson Hunley
Horace Lawson Hunley was a Confederate marine engineer who helped pioneer the new technology of submarines. Those first subs were hand-powered contraptions, by the way.
Confederate General Thomas J. “Stonewall” Jackson earned his nickname during the first Battle of Bull Run. Troops from the Confederate side were losing badly and were on the brink of defeat, but Jackson’s men stood fast, eventually leading to a victory for the South.
Upon seeing the steadfastness of Jackson and his men, Brig. Gen. Barnard Elliott Bee, Jr. exhorted his own troops to re-form by shouting, “There is Jackson standing like a stone wall. Let us determine to die here, and we will conquer. Rally behind the Virginians!”
First Battle of Bull Run
The First Battle of Bull Run, also known as Battle of First Manassas, occurred on July 21, 1861. The battle was fought near the city of Manassas, not far from Washington, D.C. It was the first major battle of the American Civil War.
The Union’s forces were slow in positioning themselves, allowing Confederate reinforcements time to arrive by rail. Each side had about 18,000 poorly trained and poorly led troops in their first battle. It was a Confederate victory followed by a disorganized retreat of the Union forces.
When it came to available capital, the Union stood head and shoulders above the Confederacy.
The South had about $74,000,000 available funds, while the Union had a staggering $234,000,000 in bank deposits and coined money.
Harriet Beecher Stowe
Harriet Elisabeth Stowe was an American abolitionist and famous author. She’s best known for Uncle Tom’s Cabin, a novel which depicts the harsh life of African Americans living in slavery.
If Civil War history interests you, check out these amazing facts about the role women played in our nation’s gravest military conflict.